THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Meg Thomas-Clapp

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Meg Thomas-Clapp.

Meg, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
I was raised in a church where women were limited to children’s and women’s ministries. When I first felt a call to ministry in a more comprehensive way, I was met with opposition from church leadership. I was often told that I’d make a great preacher’s wife someday. In High School, as I sought to make my faith my own, I left the church I was raised in looking for a home in a church that more fully realized the gospel ministry in all people’s lives regardless of gender or other differences. From then and into my college years I explored and learned from many faith traditions; I carried with me a love of scripture and hymns from my acapella upbringing, a deep desire to see the broader arts as worship and a tool for ministry from my time with non-denominational churches, a rootedness in prayer from my charismatic circles, a passion for justice and facilitating change from the mainline churches.

This journey led me to volunteer in many types of ministries while pursuing a biology degree with a pre-med concentration. When I was a senior in college applying for medical school, my mentor, Dr. Dan Brannon, invited me to consider if medical school was truly the next step for me. He highlighted what he saw as my passions and my calling: ministering to youth and children at my church, providing pastoral care to other college students as a resident assistant, serving as chair of a ministry program for at risk youth, and leading in worship musically, liturgically, and even preaching at my church and on campus. What he said resonated with me and the call I had felt so many years before, but I had seen and heard the male description of minister for so long I didn’t believe that my voice and passion could be that of a minister.

I chose to take some time off after graduation working at a hospital, serving as a volunteer assistant children’s minister, and attending a lay ministry school at night. This is when I began to find words to describe what I experienced ministry as: ministry is sharing good news through actions or words wherever you find yourself. My work in the hospital was ministry to our patients and to the other staff. My role in friendships was ministry. My service was ministry. We are all called to be ministers no matter where we find ourselves.

During this season I was introduced to the Baptist church, the traditions of priesthood of all believers, and the four fragile freedoms. I found a home among those who saw my call, passion, and voice as valid- even needed. I fell in love with a place where diversity is brought together and celebrated as we worship God and follow in Christ’s footsteps to love all people. My desire to serve in this place was realized by others and I was encouraged to pursue a seminary degree and ordination. During this season, I also met my husband, a Baptist preacher, and was soon to fulfill the words of my church home and become a preacher’s wife—but he would be a preacher’s husband as well!

Just before beginning seminary and a few months before our wedding, my fiancé and I were contacted about an opportunity to pastor a church in Bali, Indonesia for an interim. I put seminary on hold for us to take a “working honeymoon” as we served at Gateway Community Church, an English language church with members from many different denominational backgrounds from all over the world. We learned much about doing ministry together and in a context that embraced so many of the different styles and traditions my journey had exposed me to.

During seminary, my ministry grew under the mentorship of my local congregation, First Baptist Church, Austin, Texas, where I was ordained and learned alongside many amazing women and men who are seeking new ways to preach the gospel through actions and words. I served as the chaplain for the Austin Urban Pilgrimage and on the leadership and training team with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, drawing on my ecumenical experiences to create worship, service, and discipleship opportunities for young adults as they discerned what a call to social justice meant within their context.

In November 2015, I accepted my first full-time call as minister to youth and young adults at McLean Baptist Church in northern Virginia, where I currently serve.

What have been the greatest joys you have experienced in your ministry journey?
For me, the heartbeat of ministry is found in the ordinary. Our God became one of us and entered into the ordinary and is still present in every moment of our lives. The greatest joys are when the veil falls back and God’s presence is revealed in the ordinary: a pastoral visit over a cup of coffee, at the dog park with a stranger, while folding laundry with a congregant, in stories shared while driving the church bus full of youth. The joy that calls me deeper into ministry is found in the midst of us all ministering to each other in the darkest, brightest, and ordinary parts of our lives.

What have been the greatest challenges?
My first full-time call to serve at MBC has been challenging, as any first call might be, and unforeseen circumstances led to greater responsibilities as my associate and I found ourselves leading the church through the absence of a senior pastor shortly after arriving. I have had more opportunities to preach, provide pastoral care for congregants, administer and lead in the church than I imagined would arise in my brief time as an associate pastor so far. While the responsibility has been challenging, I have learned much about my ministry, my abilities, and my areas of needed growth. I have also seen congregants from diverse backgrounds come together to ask “What is God calling us to?” and eagerly seek to minister in this period of transition.

Who have been your best sources of encouragement and inspiration in ministry?
I am so thankful to be married to an advocate for women in ministry. My husband has never doubted that my call is just as valid as his own, even in moments when I have. He has taught me about amplifying the voices of minority groups that are often ignored and what support looks like. As a clergy couple, seeking to discern the ministerial call for two, he has lived into non-traditional ministry opportunities while we followed my call to seminary and even to serve here in northern Virginia. He champions women in ministry and supports by being quiet so that women’s voices can be heard in places where they might be shut out and speaking on their behalf in places where they are not respected or welcomed. I am inspired and encouraged by his ministry and we draw on each other for strength in our weaker areas and accountability in our blind spots as we both seek to follow the call to be pastors.

While there are many men who have encouraged and inspired me along the way, it is the example of women ministers that energize me to live into who I am called to be. Rev. Dr. Tina Bailey, CBF field personnel in Bali Indonesia, teaches me about the power creativity as her ministry utilizing dance and art brings love and hope into some of the darkest moments such as those awaiting the death penalty. Rev. Lee Ann Rathbun, who served on my ordination council and as my CPE supervisor, inspires me to provide a pastoral presence in difficult situations and speak love through curiosity and care in building relationships. Rev. Dr. Meredith Stone and Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus, two of the first Baptist women preachers I met, craft beautifully powerful messages and seek to empower other women ministers to embrace their call and strengthen me to find my own voice.

And this list of women is growing because of organizations like BWIM! For so long I struggled with my call because I wasn’t “what a minister looked like.” After returning from a recent BWIM gathering and being strengthened by the stories of so many women ministers, I realized that my experience that weekend was what my husband has experienced his whole life as he looked at the men standing in pulpits and leading ministries. I was finally able to recognize myself as among these women ministers, to see that we are all “what a minister looks like.”

Mary and Martha: A Reflection by Dorisanne Cooper

During the Baptist Women In Ministry Mentoring Program Retreat in January, Bianca Robinson Howard, Julie Long, and Dorisanne Cooper shared reflections on Mary and Martha. Their words were powerful for the women at the mentoring retreat, so we gladly share these reflections to the BWIM blog.

A Letter from Mary and Martha

A portion of a letter was found recently, a letter from Mary and Martha to their granddaughters. While we don’t have the whole document, what we do have is part of their effort to communicate about their story after the encounter we all know about, how they engaged and changed their story going forward from one of conflict to engagement and strength and how they wanted their granddaughters to know.

Here is the portion we have:

Have you ever had someone tell a story about you, a story that came to be known by just your name? As you know that happened to us. And as you know the story took on a life of its own in the church. As it did people seemed prone to want to make us two opposing teams, antagonists, different distinct approaches to the gospel. There especially were people who wanted to rank who was better, who was more like Jesus. And on the one hand we understood—Jesus said that Mary chose the better part. We get that. But we also know this was the same teacher who told the story of the Good Samaritan—who taught that practical action reflected the hands and feet of God, not to mention action that crossed barriers—that went against what was expected or allowed or the way the things are usually done.

Still we got to thinking about our part of the story—about that day, about our relationship. And we began to ask ourselves if we were going to live that story again and again going forward or if we could create a new narrative?

So we began to ask questions. What if we changed our story going forward? What if we took the power from the challenge of what makes us different from each other and used it creatively instead, used it to fuel a relationship instead of fracture one? That felt like good news to us.

And, of course, it took time. It took energy. It took commitment but, oh, the rewards, the possibility, the sisterhood we found. It’s been a gift. It’s been a challenge. It’s been something we wanted you to know about—so we thought we’d write you some of our lessons, our practices, our disciplines in becoming true sisters through and through so that you might too.

• First things first, we decided to resist the world’s categories of us as over and against one another and instead decided we complimented each other. We resisted that that one story was the only story.

• We learned not to define ourselves against each other.

• We learned to be grateful for those times one of us filled in a place the other couldn’t. We tried to stay open to places where we needed to stretch ourselves. We learned to let hard questions come.

• We started to wonder what the other might teach us.

• We took deep, inward looks at ourselves individually—at our motivations, at our fears.

• We stayed curious about everything we could. We learned to ask why we were prone to blaming another for our frustration.

• We sacrificed for each other—as a discipline and manifestation of our faith.

• We learned not to pigeonhole each other even into the roles we loved. We tried not to always say, “Martha, you have to cover the details.” Sometimes I (Mary) needed to be the one who took care of things so Martha could be present. Sometimes I (Martha) needed to step back so Mary could find the joy of doing.

• Finally, we learned to laugh at ourselves and marvel at each other.

At least that’s some of what we did. The truth is that we hesitated to make a list of these things—we didn’t want to give the impression that somehow they were things we did once and checked off. Or that they were all easy. Or even final. They weren’t any of those. But they were part of the ongoing and challenging process. And they pushed us toward connection and transformation and helped us understand and live more into who we felt we were each called to be. Individually and together.

Love your grandmothers,
The M & M’s

Dorisanne Cooper is the pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina.

What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid? by Pam Durso

Nearly four years ago, in March 2013, Knopf Publishers released Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, an extraordinary book about women’s leadership written by the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. As one who reads books on leadership, especially women’s leadership, I was fascinated by Sandberg’s personal anecdotes and strong words of advice. I read the book several times, and much of what she wrote has stayed with me in these last few years and caused me to ponder. But one question she raised has haunted me:

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WEREN’T AFRAID?

As a confirmed and life-long rules-keeping, people-pleasing, and no-boundaries observing helper, minister, mom, professor, and friend, my list of fears seems endless. I never want to hurt, offend, cause pain, bring conflict, or exclude, and I have lived in fear of doing all those things. And I have often lived hesitantly, cautiously, and “nicely” in order to keep peace, to maintain order, to make sure everyone is comfortable and secure.

In these last few years, I have tried to “lean in” to Sandberg’s question (I know, but I just had to use “lean in”), and I have begun doing things that are scary for me. I have written and spoken and preached words that are stronger and sharper and less fearful. I am also trying to live into words spoken by my friend, Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty: “Do brave things. Once you do one brave thing, you will do others.”

And finally I am learning to embrace these beautiful words from John O’Donohue in his To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings:

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

What would you do, my friends, if you weren’t afraid? Praying that we all have the courage this day to live in love and fear no more.

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

She’s My Pastor by Rebecca Weems

A few weeks ago, I was walking across the street, hand-in-hand with my friend’s nine-year-old daughter, toward the playground in her apartment complex. As we neared the parking lot adjacent to the playground, I noticed a white church bus. It was the same church that had told some of our kids they were not welcome because they were “bad.” It was the same church that had made some of our younger kids come up to me with fear and shame in their eyes–because they had been told that if they kept acting up they would “go to hell with all the sinners.” It was the same church that had walked around the apartment complex almost every Saturday handing out (in the words of my friend, who lives in this community and is a deacon at our church) “their moldy old bread and their white Jesus”.

As we neared the playground, my friend’s daughter let go of my hand and ran to the swings. I continued walking toward the playground where I noticed a middle aged man and three young adults talking with four of the kids who lived in the complex. All four of the kids either attend Literacy Camp, Homework Hot Spot, or our church on Sunday mornings.

As I approached the group, one of the kids (K, eight-years-old) spotted me and yelled out, “Hey, Pastor Rebecca!” Immediately the four adult heads snapped in my direction, with looks of curiosity and confusion. As I was returning hugs and high fives from the kids, the older man asked K if he had heard him correctly, that I was K’s pastor, to which K just nodded. The man then said, “Well, you know… the Bible says that only men can be pastors.” I took a breath and paused – partly because I wanted to see what the kids would say, and partly because I didn’t want to say anything I might regret later.

Thankfully, the kids spoke up. This is what that conversation was like:

“Uhhhh – Ms. Rebecca can be whatever she wants to be. That’s what she always tells us,” said A (eleven-years-old)

“But you are a pastor, right?” asked K (eight-years-old)

“Yes,” I said.

“And Mrs. Lanta?”

“Yes.”

“And Mrs. Jen?”

“Yes.”

Then, the older man began citing scripture and talking about gender roles to explain to these kids why I couldn’t be a pastor when another one of the kids (W, eight-years-old) interrupted him and said, “Well, she’s my pastor.” He then took my hand and walked with me toward the swings.

Until that moment, I really had not accepted the title of pastor. I fought the title for about a year (mostly internally). I didn’t have all the qualifications or skills I thought a pastor had to have. I couldn’t check off all the boxes I felt needed to be checked. I don’t love preaching. I’m not the most eloquent speaker. How can I be called a pastor?

One simple sentence from a child allowed me to see myself in a new light and I began to embrace the title, and the calling on my life to pastor…whatever that may look like.

On the days when my anxiety and self-doubt keep me from doing my best or believing that my best is enough, I am thankful for this story. I am thankful for a child’s words, “She’s MY Pastor.” On those hard days I am also thankful to work alongside five other incredible pastors who somehow both affirm every part of who I am and challenge me to be and do better.

I’m not perfect. I’m broken. I’m human. And…I am a pastor.
 

Rebecca serves on the pastoral team at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia as the Pastor of Educational Advocacy and Administration. Helping kids develop spiritually, academically, and emotionally into who God has uniquely made them to be is her calling.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Libby Mae Grammer

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Libby Mae Grammer.

Libby, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I have taken the long, scenic route to church ministry. In my undergraduate time at Shorter College, I found myself rebelling against my call to ministry and majored in Spanish, studying abroad in Seville, Spain for a semester. I still minored in religion and writing, but l was not sure I wanted to go to seminary, despite my call to ministry when I was thirteen years old. I took a job as an immigration paralegal right out of college in May 2007 (since I had a Spanish degree and needed a job—this worked well), and this job has served to teach me a great deal about immigration law, professional work, and the big, complex world that we live in. To this day, I work part-time for this law firm from home.

When I did decide to start seminary at McAfee School of Theology in January 2008, I was still undecided about what ministry would look like for me – but one thing I was sure of: I’d never be a minister on staff at a church (never say never…).

During my studies at McAfee, I focused my efforts in Academic Research and Christian Ethics. I had decided that my calling was probably more suited for the academy and that I would become an expert in a subject who could teach others about the intricacies of Christian Ethics in a university or seminary setting. I loved to write, and I relished the thought of being a long-term student (yes, I’m a total nerd). I wrote a thesis for my M.Div. titled “The Baptist Response to Undocumented Immigration,” merging my work and school worlds.

After a couple of years living in Chattanooga and continuing my job as a paralegal, I decided to try my hand at a more academic master’s degree in theology, moving myself and my new husband (of only half a year!) to Charlottesville, Virginia to study at the University of Virginia Religious Studies Department. There, I was introduced to Christian Feminist scholarship in a deeper, more meaningful way, and I found myself always asking the question, “but what does all this theology mean for real people—for Christians in church?” Again, I wrote a thesis on undocumented immigration, this time from a Christian feminist prospective, specifically from the margins (Womanist, Black Feminist, and Mujerista theology).

At the end of that degree, we had moved to the West End of Richmond, Virginia, so that my husband, William Underwood, could work on his degree at VCU. We joined a lovely, thoughtful congregation just up the road from where we live—River Road Church, Baptist. After a few months of membership and singing in the choir, I found myself chatting with our then-pastor about a pastoral internship. Perhaps I was meant to be in a church ministry setting after all; the academy just did not seem to be answering the harder questions for me—the question of “how now shall we live?” needed real people involved in the answers!

Since January 2015, I have served the good people of River Road Church (comma-Baptist; a meaningful distinction for this very ecumenical and liturgical congregation!). I began as an intern, a position I held until September 2015, when I took on the additional responsibility of Interim Minister of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation when our pastor retired.

Our church has entered a new season with a new pastor. Daniel Glaze began his work among us in November 2016, and I am delighted to be offering support and leadership among these good people.

Meanwhile, I do continue to write. I have a book coming out with Wipf & Stock Publishers in the coming months that combines the work of my two master’s theses. It is titled Privilege, Risk and Solidarity: Understanding Undocumented Immigration through Christian Feminist Ethics. I also enjoy the blogging and article-writing that I am asked to do at church and for other groups. I also have just begun work on a Doctor of Ministry degree at my alma mater McAfee, where I hope to blend the work of ethics and practice in my ministry—working toward my end goal of constructing an ethical methodology to help churches learn about and move toward deeper ethical reflection.

My call to both pastor and write are affirmed and flourishing these days, and it seems that no matter how far we try to detour, God manages to find us and send us back where we need to be. For me, that place right now is serving God’s people in the church.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest sources of joy are those whom I serve in my positions of ministry, along with those with whom I work. While an interim time in a congregation is always an anxious time, even feeling a little hopeless sometimes, the people and staff of our church have weathered and grown through the adversities and are living into new hope with a new leader.

I love the gifts and talents we have among us at River Road—from an amazing chancel choir (of which my husband and I are both a part), to excellent teachers for all age groups, to a plethora of retired ministers who still serve among us in so many ways, and so much more. The richness of this congregation, and their continued support of women in ministry (including the calling of a new pastor who happens to be on the BWIM board!) further reminds me of what wonderful people are here and working toward the Kingdom of God in Richmond and around the world.

My other sources of joy are those who continue to teach me and challenge me—from my professors at McAfee who continue to teach me about church ministry and ethical reflection (David Gushee, Rob Nash), to my ministry coach here in Richmond whose wisdom helps me be a better minister and writer (Bob Dale), to my supportive family and cheerleading squad at the church who remind me that being a little harried is to be expected when writing a book.

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Over the years, probably my greatest challenge has been my own anxiety. I have had the worry of being on staff at a church (growing up as a minister’s kid can be a little scarring), the worry that I was never quite qualified enough (imposter syndrome is the worst part of the academy, by far), and the ongoing struggles with society’s views of women as somehow lesser qualified to provide spiritual leadership (moving to a more open and progressive congregation was a necessity for me. I am ever-grateful for the general openness of Virginia Baptists to women in ministry). Being finally embraced as a full minister, especially now with the strong support of a great new pastor, these challenges are slowly being overcome with joy and hope for the future of my ministry.

Another big challenge for me is self-care. For many months, I have been working two part-time jobs that kept me very busy (sixty+ hours a week), plus writing and attempting to be a good spouse and mom to dog-children. Now that we are headed toward my husband’s new job (he just graduated in December), I am beginning to feel a little bit of weight lifted from this worry. But I will always face over-extension with my perfectionist tendencies, and I am ever-grateful for folks who remind me to slow down—including the D.Min. faculty at McAfee who insist that, as part of the learning process, we as student each take a twenty-four-hour silent, unplugged retreat. I am also thankful for my circle of ministry and discipleship friends in Richmond, with whom I have spent many evenings discerning our callings together, and praying for each other’s peace and contentment with God.

Who has inspired, encouraged, and affirmed you as you have lived out your calling?

In December 2010, I was ordained to the ministry by a group of wonderful people at a small church in North Georgia. They believed in me, supported me, and blessed my ministry. On a snowy day, a group of my professors from McAfee, along with a row of McAfee friends/students, drove up from Atlanta in spite of the weather to offer their hands as a blessing.

From there, the congregation at First Baptist Chattanooga, Tennessee (Golden Gateway) provided me ample opportunities to use my seminary training as a supply preacher, small group leader, worship leader, and in many other ways. I had ministry guidance, love, and unbridled support from these wonderful folks who became our home church for my husband and me. It was from them, from Michael Cheuk at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, from River Road Church’s now retired-pastor Mike Clingenpeel (and the whole of the RRCB staff since then), and from all those who support me in my writing and my ministry here and all over the United States that I feel more called and affirmed today than I ever have been.

Mary and Martha: A Reflection by Julie Long

During the Baptist Women In Ministry Mentoring Program Retreat in January, Bianca Robinson Howard, Julie Long, and Dorisanne Cooper shared reflections on Mary and Martha. Their words were powerful for the women at the mentoring retreat, so we gladly share these reflections to the BWIM blog.

“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38-42, NRSV)

In many sermons, Sunday School lessons, and other interpretations of this Luke 10 passage, Martha is set up as the negative example, the one not to be. But as one who tends to act more like Martha than Mary most of the time, I want to defend Martha a little. I know what her gifts can be. I know how much she’s needed.

It was Martha who opened up her home to Jesus, offering the radical hospitality that he talked about. It was Martha who filled his hungry belly. Martha was the one who provided the space for Mary’s encounter with Jesus to happen.

Martha provides the ministry of making space. The ministry of making space is an important one.
Table fellowship cannot happen if no one has cooked the meal. The missions offering can be collected but it will not make a difference to the people it’s meant to serve unless someone delivers it. Worshippers may not find sanctuary if no one has bothered to cut on the heat and the lights, and they can’t experience the beauty of an anthem if the choir has not rehearsed, and they cannot remember Jesus through the taste of the bread and juice if the elements have not been bought and prepared.

Martha is the one who misses the choir’s Christmas production because no one else wanted to keep the nursery that day. Martha directs Vacation Bible School every year. If you want to know where the Christmas decorations are stored or how to run the industrial dishwasher in the church kitchen, ask Martha. You can count on Martha to always show up with a casserole.

Martha’s strength is taking the lead where action is required. She wants the job done well, and she is infuriated when she counts on someone else and they drop the ball.

You know her. You, too, may be a lot like her. And you give thanks to God for her because Sacred moments that take place in sacred spaces because of Martha.

You know these things, and surely Jesus does, too. So what does he mean by seemingly reprimanding Martha? Is he not appreciative of all that she does?

A few interesting things to consider about this story and this relationship:
•I think it’s helpful for us to consider the context of this story. This story comes right after Good Samaritan story, in which Jesus has shown us the importance of taking action. “Go and do likewise,” he says. And then, in the story of Martha and Mary, Jesus affirms Mary’s desire to sit and be attentive to the Word. “This is the better part,” he says. So which is it?

We need both stories. The model for the disciple is found in the juxtaposition of the two. Disciples often need more discrimination, not more vigorous effort.

• When Jesus responds to Martha’s complaint about Mary’s unhelpfulness, surely he’s not unappreciative of all she has done. He doesn’t criticize Martha’s active service. Rather, he focuses on the fact that she is “anxious and troubled about many things.” Her service is “distracted,” and it is this anxious, driven service that Jesus contrasts with “the one thing that is needful,” which is Mary’s attentiveness.

Jesus doesn’t say Martha is to abandon her work. But he does invite her to center her life. This is not a story about the supremacy of a life of prayer over a life of action. It’s an invitation to move from being distracted to being attentive—in our prayer as well as in our action.
When we busy ourselves out of our fear or anxiety or jealousy or a need to control, we have come off center. Jesus was inviting Martha to reconsider why she was doing what she was doing and to realign.

• Jesus may have been encouraging Martha to step out of the box that she found herself in. Martha is fulfilling the role assigned to her by society. In contrast, “By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is acting like a male. She neglects her duty to assist her sister in the preparation of the meal and violates a clear social boundary. Jesus allows Mary to claim the same role that the disciples later claim for themselves – not to leave the ministry of the word to serve tables.

To love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself meant then and now that one must often reject society’s rules in favor of the codes of the kingdom. Perhaps Jesus was empowering Martha to break the rules and follow Jesus’ example.

There’s nothing wrong with “everything in its place” and “wanting a well-run household,” is there? No, there’s not. But when the process or the product become more important than the people served, Martha has become unhealthy. This is what Jesus reminds Martha of.

Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at the First Baptist Church of Christ at Macon, Georgia

Those Preaching Women in Texas by Pam Durso

Dr. Renita Weems

                       Renita Weems

Last Friday and Saturday, I had the good fortune of attending the Texas Baptist Women in Ministry Conference at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. I always love being in my home state, but I love even more hearing powerful stories and sermons, Last week was almost more than my head and heart could take in! Dr. Renita Weems, a leading womanist scholar, gifted college administrator, and well-known author, was the plenary speaker, and her words were captivating, challenging, and inspiring.

The conference preacher was Meredith Stone, and I must confess that Meredith is at the top of my list when it comes to preachers. She has a extraordinary gift for helping her listeners see and hear the scriptural text in new, fresh ways, and she never, ever fails to push me to broaden my vision of the gospel. Her Friday sermon on the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet is one you need to hear.

Dr. Meredith Stone

                     Meredith Stone

Texas BWIM will have it posted on their website soon, and it was videoed as Facebook Live on the Texas BWIM page (don’t you love technology). Once you listen to her Friday sermon, give yourself a few days to sit with it and then listen to her Saturday morning sermon!

The panel discussion on Race, Women, and the Church was a much needed conversation with Jewel London, Anyra Cano, and Mary Alice Birdwhistell, which gave me great hope for the future of the church while also making me long for more conversations like this one. And I actually videoed it in my first ever Facebook Live attempt! (Sorry about the sideways picture at the beginning).

Rev. Ellen Di Giosia

      Ellen Di Giosia

I am so thankful for my friend, Ellen Di Giosia, who has served for two years now as the leader of Texas Baptist Women in Ministry. Ellen has given countless hours to the building of a new organization–those not-so-fun tasks of filing forms with the IRS and figuring out how to gather folks from across the very large state of Texas to do this important work. Ellen has done all this and more beautifully–and has shared her gift of leadership and her fun sense of humor with Texas Baptists who are committed to a shared vision of equality in the churches.

One of my most favorite things about conferences are the late night conversations and the lunch table discussions. Rarely do I stay up until midnight (which was really 1:00 a.m. for me), but when Nora Lozano and Patty Villarreal started talking, I was suddenly wide-awake.

Griselda Escobar and Patty Villarreal

      Griselda Escobar and Patty Villarreal

They shared with me about their dreamed into reality ministry–Latina Leadership Institute. They have created a life-giving, leadership-creating program, and their story is one I hope to hear more about in the coming days. The next day I sat by Patty and Griselda Escobar at lunch. Griselda was Baptist Women in Ministry’s 2010 Addie Davis Award recipient for Outstanding Leadership in Pastoral Ministry, and she is one of the most beautiful human beings I know! Just sitting next to her makes my heart happy.

The conference drew lots of college and seminary students–including a large and  enthusiastic group from Howard Payne University. I met one of those students, Jaci Garrett, who with the help of her professor and mentor, Melody Maxwell, just this week hosted the first ever meeting of a new student-led organization for women called to ministry at their university!

I also met some fabulous Hardin-Simmons students, who stepped into a number of leadership roles at the conference–they shared their gift of music, ran the cameras, passed out programs, and served as chauffeurs!

Hardin-Simmons students

             The Hardin-Simmons crew

I am so thankful Texas Baptist Women in Ministry–the organization! And even more thankful for the preaching and teaching and singing and leading women of Texas. On Sunday, I left my beloved home state full of joy and hope!

The birthday girls and their mom

       The birthday girls and their mom

 

 

But I didn’t leave without having lunch with my favorite Texas girls, both of whom are celebrating birthdays this week!

Happy birthday to you two! Love you lots!

 

 

 

 

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. 

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Hannah Coe

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Hannah Coe.

Hannah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
As a child, I was fascinated with missionaries and always envisioned myself becoming one. Corrie Ten Boom was (and is) a deeply influential figure in my life, particularly during my most formative years. I fully expected to serve God and others in an international medical missions program as a physician.
God invited me to consider other options for ministry during my college years. I served in a program called Arts in Medicine at a local hospital in Rome, GA to help patients achieve their therapy goals using visual art therapy activities.

I worked at the Winshape Retreat Center, a marriage and couples’ ministry of the Winshape Foundation, on my college’s campus. Through these opportunities, I saw God’s healing and empowering presence in the lives of others. I began to wonder if God might be calling me still to a lifetime ministry of healing, but through different means than I originally expected.

In 2007, ten years ago this summer, God invited me to my first local church ministry experience at First Baptist Church of Athens, Georgia, my home church, working with Matt DuVall as a youth ministry intern. When FBC Athens called to ask if I’d consider coming on staff full-time upon my college graduation, I felt led to say yes. I worked at FBC Athens for nearly seven years during which time I had the opportunity to minister with youth, college students, and children. FBC Athens gave me opportunities to experience church leadership at many different levels, gave me time and encouragement to complete my seminary education, and ordained me to gospel ministry in March of 2011.

In April of 2015, I made the bittersweet decision to end my time at FBC Athens and transition to First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri where I serve as associate pastor of children and families. I’ve again found myself on a wonderful team of pastors experiencing tremendous opportunities, not only to pastor with children and their families, but also to preach and serve in various church leadership roles.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
When I worked with the Arts in Medicine program during college, I met a young woman on the rehab unit. A serious infection left her paralyzed from the shoulders down and she spent weeks in the hospital doing therapy to establish a “new normal”. She was in her mid-twenties, a mother of three, and cleaned houses for a living. We became friends over the weeks and would often discuss the dreams she had, dreams about being able to walk again. In our times together, I was deeply humbled by her courage, specifically the emotional and spiritual courage she worked to build during her time in the hospital. I found great joy in journeying with her through rehabilitation, watching how peace and healing somehow found her in the midst of great loss. Even though her life would never be the same, she found the strength she needed to move forward, strength she professed to come from a power higher and greater than herself.

This story is a great example of what I love most about ministry: journeying with others, even and especially through the hardest of life’s seasons and questions; searching for and finding the healing and empowering presence of God. A child discerning a call to faith. A parent working through a difficult situation. A team of church leaders grappling with a challenging issue. I find joy in searching for God together.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
My greatest challenge in ministry has been learning to trust myself. I often struggle with what others will think about what I say and do (or don’t say and do). I’ve struggled to speak up when I disagree, to be patient in seasons of conflict, and to assert healthy boundaries in ministry relationships. These insecurities and anxieties keep me from hearing and trusting what’s in my heart. A while back, I found myself ready to make the commitment to practice trusting and using my voice. The more I do so, the easier it is to use my voice and “claim my seat at the table.” Guess what, the world hasn’t fallen apart yet (wink, wink). Being able to trust ourselves, to trust God-in-us, is part of what guides us during the most challenging seasons of ministry.

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting out in ministry?
Over the years, I’ve been given three pieces of advice I carry with me to this day:
You are in charge of your own self-care. In the earliest days of ministry, a friend told me that the church will not take responsibility for my self-care, that’s something for which I’m responsible. Practicing self-care has become increasingly important to me as I’ve become a mother and taken on additional vocational responsibilities. Because self-care is vital to my ability to be the kind of mother and minister I feel called to be, I intentionally build self-care into my weekly, quarterly, and annual routines. Keeping routine doctor’s appointments, seeing a spiritual director, getting exercise, regular times of solitude and silence, pampering myself…these are a few things I do to practice self-care. The more time goes by, the more I actually believe that taking care of myself is one of the best things I can do as a minister and a mom.

Even people who love Jesus will let you down. My friend Lee Ritchie says, “There’s no hurt like church hurt.” It’s the truth. Even though I know that not a one of us is perfect, it still hurts when people speak harshly, don’t keep their word, or worsen conflicted situations. This is part of journeying together in faith. When I find myself hurt or angry, it helps me to pause and say, “Sometimes people let you down.” These words have often been a gateway to grace.

Do what keeps you closest to God. Julie Pennington-Russell offered this advice to me one day several years ago. I’d shared with her my struggle to “know” what type of congregational ministry God might be calling me to. She encouraged me to go where I could be closest to God and to do what keeps me closest to God. I think about these words nearly every day.They have carried me through many questions and decisions. My future in ministry holds many unanswered questions. I find the strength to patiently hold these questions with God by focusing on God’s presence and leading in my life.

Mary and Martha: A Reflection by Bianca Robinson Howard

During the Baptist Women In Ministry Mentoring Program Retreat in January, Bianca Robinson Howard, Julie Long, and Dorisanne Cooper shared reflections on Mary and Martha. Their words were powerful for the women at the mentoring retreat, so for the next three weeks, we will gladly share these reflections to the BWIM blog.

“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38-42, NRSV)

Mary, in this passage, is the ultimate example of what it means to be intimate with Jesus through spending time with Jesus, getting to know Christ better and deeper, and taking the time to stop our busy lives and enjoy the presence of God.

Mary reminds us that “doing ministry” is not spending intimate time with God. Working on a sermon is not your one on one intimate time with the Lord and your self-care time is not serving at the retreat you planned. Our service to God can, at times, become self-serving and unsatisfying if we don’t check our motives behind it.

In verse 40, Martha began to lose her joy in serving Jesus and in verse 41, he told her how troubled she seemed. But Mary was not troubled or frustrated because she was spending her time with the one who could take all those feelings away. We must find time away from everyday ministry tasks to enjoy the Lord. By doing so, we gain strength, self-awareness, peace—and we get to keep the joy in serving God.  Spending intimate time with the Lord gives us time to release burdens and to be reminded that God will fight our daily battles.

Mary and Martha had two different serving styles, not necessarily better, just unique to them. Mary’s way of serving was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Listening can be seen as an underrated way of serving. However, the ministry of listening and the ministry of presence can be just as powerful as the “doing”. I believe Mary’s listening helped Jesus and vice versa, making their relationship stronger together.

Also, in verse 40, Martha is comparing herself to Mary and complaining that she was not serving the way she thought she should be serving.  But Mary stayed true to herself and did it her way. In ministry, we need to know how we serve best. We should not compare ourselves to how others are doing ministry or serving God. We are to serve God the way we know is best for us. Stay in your ministry lane. Stay true to your gifts and calling when you serve God. Please the Lord by doing what you do best and don’t try to be what you are not.

Your gifts are special and specific in God’s kingdom and God will use you as He sees fit.  Your gifts will make room for you. Live them out and let God open the doors for you. Don’t spend your energy comparing yourself to someone else. There is enough work for us all to do, no need to compare ourselves, complain or get jealous.

In the end, Martha and Mary both served the Jesus in their own unique way and Jesus received each of their gifts of serving.

Bianca Robinson Howard serves at Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, as associate minister and the full-time children and youth pastor/director.

Soul Care by Pam Durso

Self-care was not “a thing” when I was in seminary or early in my professional career. I certainly didn’t see good self-care modeled by my workaholic minister father or any of my ministry mentors. Instead I learned about self-care from my students. They taught me the value of unplugging from email, walking away from the chaos for a day or two, taking time for friends and family, caring for my physical body, and finding space in the calendar for rest and renewal. That seems to be a pattern in my life—my students are my best teachers!

But it was Bernard of Clairvaux, a twelfth century monk, who was my teacher about soul care.  What can I say? I am a church historian.

Bernard wrote these words:

“Those who are wise, therefore, will see their lives more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself . . . Today there are many in the church who act like canals. The reservoirs are far too rare. You must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.”

Over the years, Bernard has called me to over and over again, reminding me that I must be a reservoir, continually being filled by the springs of renewing water. I must take good care of my soul, because while ministry CAN be done as a canal—canal ministry is not lasting or sustainable. I cannot give, you cannot give, what we do not have. We cannot share grace if we have not received it.

During my sabbatical leave last fall, I knew that I needed to incorporate better practices of soul care into my daily life. I must confess that spiritual practices for me have most often fallen to the bottom of my “To Do” list and have been crowded out by all the “important tasks” of my day. Maintaining life-giving spiritual practices has always been hard for me (if confession is good for the soul, I guess this confession is part of my soul care, right?)

So back to my sabbatical. During those weeks in which I had lots of time and an empty calendar, I set aside time each day for prayer—making time each morning to speak words of gratitude for God’s goodness and care, to invite God into those my areas of challenge and stress, and to sit for a few moments in silence, listening, just listening.

I also began using a devotional book that I picked up at the Sacred Heart Monastery—Give Us This Day: Prayer for Today’s Catholic. The devotion has five sections for each day: a morning Psalm with a prayer, an evening Psalm with a Prayer, the daily Mass, a reflection, and “Blessed Among Us,” which are cool stories of significant saints of the church—most are Catholic heroes but some are not, and these stories feed my church historian soul.

During my time at Sacred Heart, I have made a daily practice of reading the morning Psalm and the prayer and then reading both the reflection and “Blessed Among Us.” I now do this each morning as I drink my coffee. (I am NOT a morning person so coffee is a strong incentive for me).

I also bought a journal and a set of colored pencils, and most every day, I write down words or phrases—not complete sentences usually, and some morning I draw something. I am a stick figure kind of artist so my pictures aren’t even close to pretty but they are colorful, and seeing all that color in my journal gives me joy.

I started this practice on August 31, which means that I have been faithful in this new prayer practice for five months. It is now a habit—instead of just wishful thinking on my part.

James Clear, in Transform Your Habits, says that it takes anywhere from two to eight months to build a new behavior into your life, and he helpfully notes that missing one day or a few days of the new practice does not materially affect the habit formation process. He concludes, “Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.”

We all know that soul care is critical for ministers—but most days we are so caught up in the doing of ministry that we forget to be a reservoir. The beauty of spiritual practices is that they are available to us at any age, at any stage of life. All we need to do is find a practice that fills our soul’s needs, commit to it for two months so that it becomes a habit, and then give ourselves grace on those days when we forget or fail.

I hope you too hear Bernard calling to you—over and over again—to be a reservoir!

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.